Sunday, March 23, 2014

Oh, to be a "hot" screenwriter again

This is a typical story. In the mid 80’s my partner and I had a pretty good movie career going along with our TV work. (I think this was that honeymoon period between the time VOLUNTEERS was made and actually released…because that window was pretty short as I recall.) Disney wanted to meet us.

We trooped down to Burbank, appropriately entered the Dopey Building and met with this very nice energetic young executive. If we had any movie ideas he wanted us to bring them to Disney first. Because of our work on CHEERS we were the perfect writers for them. They were looking to do sophisticated romantic comedies with with and heart, and smart crackling dialogue. Very few people could do that but we could and that’s what they wanted. We were the next Preston Sturges (master of the screwball comedy). We were obviously very flattered and said when we came up with something we would call them. He then said, “Listen, while you’re here, we do have one project that’s open, and we think you guys would be perfect for it. ERNEST GOES TO JAIL.”

We graciously passed. We could write sophisticated comedy but we weren’t Noel Coward.


Brian O. said...
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Angry Gamer said...

Yeah turn up your nose at Ernest movies and buddy up for a mega hit like Jewel of Nile... which was actually about a Jewel, just like the Arab Spring was about "Spring".

Friday Question: During your stint in Features did you come across any projects that you wish you had taken? And did you know that the project had potential or was it a lark that it worked out?

Also what are the merits of "doing time" on a silly project like Ernest Goes to Jail to get "in" with a studio like Disney? Do you think that Disney would have appreciated you and had you work on a better project next?

After all you might have worked next on "Father of the Bride" or equivalently "Ernest Scared Stupid". lol.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Back in the '80's Jim Varney's demo reel made it to our agency...and it was a delight. Lots of commercial work as Ernest P. Worrell of course...and a wonderful cowboys and indians bit where Jim played all of the characters. Not Jonathan Winters, but very entertaining.

Igor said...

Ken wrote: "We could write sophisticated comedy but we weren’t Noel Coward."

Actually, I believe Noel Coward said he passed on "Earnest Celebrates Christmas" because he was afraid he was no Ken Levine.

Doug Thompson said...

Possible Friday question Ken.

Why are you and David Isaacs not still writing for television and/or the movies? God knows both could benefit from your amazing talents.

I know there's always been ageism in Hollywood, but Chuck Lorre's no spring chicken and he has four series on the air now. Granted he's listed as creator and Exec Producer of them all, but still.

Are all network/development execs in their 20's and 30's and don't know great writing is ageless?

Mike said...

The Dopey Building, Burbank. Imagine my disappointment, when I looked this up. There could have been seven houses, each a giant model of a different dwarf, like the Statue of Liberty.

Doug Thompson's question can be paraphrased as: Why is your daughter working and not you?

Oscar Wild said...

I, too, originally passed on the franchise, but I eventually became so desperate for cash that I wrote "The Importance of Being Ernest" and look where it got me.

Clavinator said...

Wow! To think you could be working on Star Wars VII or Toy Story; The Final Playdate (with a new toy based on the snowman from Frozen) or the Frozen sequel where Elsa battles The Heat Mizer. How about trying to revive the Yellow Submarine 3D remake that Robert Zemekis had to shitcan in favor of making Flight.

Jerry Krull said...

Maybe Crowdfunding a few 15 minute "webisodes" on your own YouTube channel would get one of your show ideas picked up. Your following of this blog alone could bring in some funds for such a project.

Friday question: Much like the music business has been completely reshaped by the internet and iTunes, do you have some thoughts on how shows ("content" as the kids like to call it these days) will be created and distributed in the near future?

Music industry used to be the artist made their money on record/album sales. Touring was a just to promote. Now with single songs sold on iTunes and such, the acts have to tour at high dollar ticket prices to make money.

Are Netflix, Amazon etc. the new show providers (networks) of the future? Video on demand and binge watching may over rule network broadcast schedules and time slot ratings wars.

You are spot on how numbers for the popular shows are way down and regular networks would kill for what Becker and Almost Perfect delivered in their day.

Brian Drake said...

You passed up Ernest Goes to Jail???

No wonder you're blogging.

Brian Phillips said...

"Hey Vern, It's Ernest", Jim Varney's short-lived kids show, was a nice showcase of Varney's talents. There was a lot of Ernest, but he also played a drill sergeant, a scary guy and a dowdy old lady to great effect.

Friday question: While you were DJ'ing, did you find yourself listening to more or less music during your off-hours?

P.S. My radio show (a labor of love) is here:

Brian O. said...

Jim Varney was an actor of largely underutilized talent. John Cherry owned the Ernest character and milked it for everything. I don't know how well you would have integrated with Cherry's Nashville crew or how much of your input would have made it to the screen. I can't help but think Jim Varney would have loved to work with you and get him the hell out of the denim vest.

chuckcd said...

I was born to write "Ernest Goes To Jail".

Shanna said...

"Earnest Celebrates Christmas"

Ernest Saves Christmas! Man, we used to watch those movies every year when I was a kid. I still sing 'oh christmas tree' every year, with no lyrics but that.